An Artful Approach to Environmental Issues
Above: Oyster Reef II, mixed media on canvas, 24" x 24" 2014
The connection between art and nature is timeless. The beauty and mystery of the natural world have always served as a source of creative inspiration. With nature now at the center of much debate, from recognizing climate change to strategies for prevention or adaptation, artists may find themselves uniquely qualified to contribute to the conversation. Art has the vocabulary by which to reach us on the only level that may be effective in moving hearts and minds to make the systemic changes necessary to adapt to the new realities of climate change. It is a primal language that helps us remember, in the deepest places of our being, that we are of this world and not separate from it. This message has never been as important as it is today, since it will only be by truly remembering our place in the web of life that we will be able to work toward establishing a more harmonious relationship with our changing planet. Therefore, in a time when it may be crucial to our very existence to examine and redefine our civilization's relationship with nature, it is exciting to see artists among the thought leaders in this discussion, both locally and globally.
In fact, "climate change art" is becoming a veritable movement, as more leaders recognize the value of leveraging a creative approach to communicating the message as well as developing solutions. In my native state of Virginia, sea level rise is an issue that is very real for residents of cities like Norfolk. City leaders have decided to "explore the issues through art work" by creating the "Art and Rising Tides" project with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. According to the Virginian Pilot, "officials aim to use artistic expression to strengthen preparedness and infrastructure." For more information on the role of art in responding to climate change, take a look the list of resources below.
Climate change is not the only environmental issue that art is helping to address. In Virginia, restoration of our waterways, especially the Chesapeake Bay, is vital to our quality of life. Several local organizations are using art to convey this message. The Elizabeth River Project has commissioned Scottish scultor Rob Mulholland for a installation at Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth to showcase their environmental education center opening in 2016. The Elizabeth River Project will also host an art show with the theme "The Living River" as part of their annual Riverfest event. I have submitted a few of my oyster-themed pieces as part of this exhibition, since the Elizabeth River used to be haled as an "Oyster Mecca".
Last fall, I began my first collective art project, "The Oyster is My World", with the hopes of spreading the word about the efforts to restore the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay. Since then, I have received a lot of great submissions and learned a great deal about the resurrgence of Virginia oyster culture. There is now an official "Virginia Oyster Trail" and Governor Terry McAuliffe has declared November to be "Virginia Oyster Month." I am excited to be working on this project through the month of October for a November unveiling event (TBD) and to continue learning about the many ongoing initiatives to support our oyster population. For more information about Virginia oysters and the groups and initiatives working to restore them, see the list of links below.
Working with nature has always been my greatest source of inspiration and continues to be the main subject of my work. While today's environmental topics can be sensitive on many levels, I am excited by the abundance of opportunites for artists working with nature to connect with audiences and elevate the dialogue about our place in the natural world. If my subject matter can be relevant in bringing a new level of awareness to coastal environmental issues, it would be gratifying to be a voice for moving society toward a more respectful and enlightened relationship with nature.
Artists and climate change:
Virginia coastal organizations and events: